Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Night Network "News"

60 Minutes had an ex-Gitmo guy named Murat Kurnaz on tonight, charging all sorts of torture during his detainment.

Maybe too juicy a tidbit for 60 Minutes, but in an interview with Radio Bremen last year, Murat Kurnaz apparently alleged

Almost every time that someone had to go to the medical center and was away for a few days, he usually came back with a body part missing. I saw this with my own eyes: that one or another of my neighbors was taken to the medical center and then came back and something had been amputated. Even though he had not been sick and it wasn't necessary. For instance, fingers that were perfectly healthy.

Now, some people find this sort of thing easy to believe, I'm sure. Me, it makes me think Murat Kurnaz is not the type of fellow who always tells the truth.

And there was Lesley Stahl's nodding, fawning interview with Al Gore. Excellent. Then, flipping over to NBC, there was "journalist" Keith Olbermann fulminating over Bush with NBC "news analyst" Rachel Maddow of Air America. In prime time, on NBC, not MSNBC.

The mainstream media, fair and balanced, as always.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

An Obama "Pivot"?

No Left Turns points us to a shift in Obama's rhetoric regarding Rev. Wright. Obama was smarter to let things lie as they did after the Philly speech - and let his allies, especially in the media, intelligentsia, and black church establishments, construct apologies (in the sense of providing arguments) on his behalf. By starting to shift his position, he risks ending up with what we might call the "Kerry" problem. Kerry lost the 2004 elections, in my view, largely because he couldn't explain what he *really* thought about the war in Iraq. His classic "I voted for it before I voted against it" fatally wounded his campaign precisely because it so perfectly exemplified his waffling and left him without a coherent narrative to pull the campaign together. Likewise with Obama, as he tries to subtly shift his positions away from Wright, it will become all the more difficult for him to explain that relationship. The questions will just pile on: now, instead of just having to answer why he stuck around TUCC, he'll have to answer why he's saying something different than he said before. The problem, I suspect, is that there's more Wright nastiness out there and that Obama has realized that while Wright probably doesn't represent a fatal problem in the primaries, he's a heavy burden to carry in the general election. But the "pivot" here (if that's what this is) may end up being the thing that does him in.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pelosi's Brave Dissent

WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime critic of China's human rights policies, said Friday it would be wrong to boycott the Beijing Olympics.

She said in a statement that while the Chinese government has failed to live up to its commitments to improve human rights conditions in China and Tibet, "I believe a boycott of the Beijing Olympics would unfairly harm our athletes who have worked so hard to prepare for the competition.

Not to mention they'd cut off our supply of Elmo dolls.

Y'know, I could vote Democrat now and then if they were willing to pay a price, any price, some price, for their loudly expressed principles.

As I said in India last week where I met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, if freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China's oppression in Tibet, we have lost our moral authority to speak out on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world," she said.

Talk, talk, talk. At least Jimmy Carter was willing to hiss some people off by boycotting the 1980 Soviet Olympics after they invaded Afghanistan. Maybe not the best decision, but a principled one, one with a price, and to his credit.

Oh well, back to Bush, to make sure he doesn't get re-elected and invade Iraq again.



Jennifer Rubin over at Commentary's blog contentions picks up on something that's been bothering me about the whole Obama-Rev. Wright thing.

In his big speech in Philly, Obama essentially excused Wright by saying that he'd grown up under different circumstances and that his "static" views on race were thereby understandable, if still wrongheaded. It's a nice rhetorical move, even if Wright grew up quite comfortably and even if Obama's "distancing" coincided precisely with his presidential ambitions, but it doesn't quite square with the idea that Wright is somehow "brilliant," does it?

In my mind, if someone's pretty smart, they have the capacity to look beyond their own particularities (never perfectly, of course) and do better than Wright has done - he seems stuck in 1968. All goes to the idea that Obama's really just playing games here (and was probably playing games with his embrace of Trinity UCC). Just another pol, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Oh ye of little faith...

So the Obamas sure are chintzy with their charitable donations, at least when they're making less than a cool quarter-million. Or, to be even a bit more cynical, when they're thinking about running for president. So in 2002, the Obamas made roughly $260,000 and gave $1050 to charity. That's awful, simply awful. Obama's looking more like the most ordinary pol around every day.

But maybe there's a way he could turn this to his advantage. Maybe he could say, see, I wasn't all *that* invested in Rev. Wright's church - I hardly gave them any money most years. I just sat in the pews and heard all those sermons and thought about the wonderful things that the church was doing for the poor, things that I, of course, had nothing to do with financially...hmmm, maybe that won't work so well after all.....

So how is Obama anything other than an eloquent dyed-in-the-wool liberal law professor? He has no political views that the vast majority of faculty don't hold. He has been a part of a church that is defined as much by radical academic theories as by any biblical gospel. He makes claims to be close to certain people and then pushes others away whenever it is convenient for his political goals. He doesn't spend any of his own money helping others but thinks that others should have their earnings taken so that the state can spend it. And so on and so on...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Eyewitness Testimony about Chicago Politics

It's not our custom to be a reblogging blog around here.

But Caroline Glick sounds like a righteous dude. Offered for America's consideration, word up.

It's the Leftism, Stupid

Barack Obama is getting high praise from the MSNBC/NYT types for having the "courage" to tell America that there are a lot of chronically hissed-off black folks.

Duh. White folks know all about it; they buy more rap records than blacks, and if they didn't read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, they caught a few minutes of the movie on cable.

But it's wrong to read Rev. Jeremiah Wright's jeremiads as racism against whites, his church as "black separatist," or his anger as a uniquely black phenomenon. Rev. Wright mostly rails against the adolescent Hollywood image of the bad guy: rich white men, the common enemy of all mankind, what Peter Sinfield called "gargoyles chewing on dead cigars." There are white faces at the Trinity Church services nodding in agreement along with the black ones---the tirades against the gargoyles are hardly different than what you'd hear from a caucasian/minority-wannabe like Ward Churchill, at any Young Democrat chapter meeting, or at most lunch tables on the Harvard campus. You don't have to be black for your politics to be jejune and angry, you just have to be a member of the left.

And there's the rub with Sen. Obama---little of this has to do with race, and little of the upset on the part of conservatives, and most importantly, the independents he must court. It was Obama who made the focus of his speech race and racism, in a clever 3-Card Monte. The problem with Rev. Wright isn't that he's black and angry, it's that he's wack.

Look, in a two-party system, you can hardly expect the other guy to boot out all his strange bedfellows, because if you do, your bed gets pretty empty in a hurry. Lord knows the GOP doesn't discourage the snakehandling vote. For Obama to accept support from the black left, indeed the left as a whole, is as American as, well, declining to wear an American flag pin.

But when you climb into the strange bedfellow's bed all on your own instead of the other way around, that's when it's worrisome, and that's what Sen. Obama did by joining Rev. Wright's church two decades ago. If he truly disagrees with Rev. Wright's stance on most things, then he evidently cannot tell the difference between the duties to principle, the reality of two-party politics and mere cynical opportunism.

Either way, most Americans don't want a wack leftist for president, or an opportunist either. Senator Obama has done little to prove he's not one or both.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama Plays the Otter Card

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmation action, that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap," he said. "On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation, that rightly offend white and black alike...

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother -- a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street....These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.---Barack Obama, Philadelphia '08

Masterful. In times of crisis, consult the repository of all human wisdom, the classics.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules or took a few liberties with our female guests. We did.

But you can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few sick, perverted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general?

I put it to you, Greg, isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do what you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you bad-mouth the United States of America! Gentlemen!---Eric Stratton, Faber '63

Monday, March 17, 2008

Obama: Between His Black Rock of Ages and a Very Hard Place

Tomorrow, Barack Obama is going to Philly to give the speech of his life to save his candidacy.

Now, it might be that Obama can survive the superdelegate game and still win the Democrat nomination. But in this Feiler Faster 24/7 newsuniverse, his 20 years as a member of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's congregation have hit the fan.

With the pivotal Pennsylvania primary another 5 weeks away, Obama is already looking at a substantial defeat. One poll had him down to the lovely and talented Hillary Rodham Clinton 55-36, and that was before the nation started learning about Rev. Wright's jeremiads against "white" America: "White greed" makes the needy world suffer. 9-11 was a justifiable payback. The white US government used AIDS as a weapon against the browner people on Earth, to kill them off just on general principles.

Dude's wack, the black equivalent of a Kennedy assassination theorist, a UFO believer, an anti-fluoridation activist, and a guy who sends Elvis a card every year on his birthday.

Sen. Obama, who's had his path to the presidency strewn with garlands and rose petals, has to negotiate his way around the biggest turd in recent electoral memory.

As Mickey Kaus, a leading proponent of the Feiler Faster Theory asks, what if Obama loses Pennsylvania by 20 points? Who knows? It could be worse than that. Rasmussen, admittedly an outlier, shows some ominous numbers: since Rev. Wright hit the sleepy consciousness of national fan, Sen. Obama's national negative rating has leapt to 50%, and 54% among white voters.

Now, the actual fact is likely that the young and politically ambitious Barack Obama found a power center in Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, and you go to church where the votes and kingmakers are. Who's listening, anyway? Just shake some hands afterward, cut a lunch date with a potential contributor, throw a few smiles to the crowd and get home by noon for the Bears game.

Now, the sentiments on the left [and the Obama campaign] are that talk can solve everything, whether with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the American electorate. Barack Obama gets his chance to talk. I suppose he'll say he disagrees with "some" of Rev. Wright's rantings.

But although I expect some world-class eloquence tomorrow that'll satisfy some, I suspect there is a critical mass of voters who will not elect him president until and unless he tells us which one rantings he does disagree with.

And if and when he does, he'll lose some of his strongest supporters.

Because, as it turns out, not all talk can be talked away with more talk. It's gotta be this or that, quoth The Duke. There are fundamental disagreements in the American polity, and although George Washington was elected by unanimous vote, it has not happened since, nor will anyone ever be again.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Rev. Wright...

So how to think about the quite estimable Rev. Wright, the now not-so-close adviser to Sen. Obama? Well, take two poles out of play: I doubt it's the case that Obama shares many of Rev. Wright's particular views (e.g. that AIDS was brought on by "Whitey" to get the black man) but neither do I think that he's entirely immaterial to our evaluation of Obama. Very few of us churchgoers agree entirely with our pastors and sometimes we may even stay at churches where the pastor makes us grind our teeth on a weekly basis. But being a part of a church that's so powerfully centered around the personality of a particular pastor for *20 years* has to suggest that Obama at the very least didn't feel all *that* uncomfortable with Wright (and here I'm assuming that he's basically lying when he says that he wasn't aware of Wright's controversial statements - even if he didn't know anything about those particular statements, it beggars the imagination to suppose that Wright hadn't said similar things in his presence) and, what's more, he felt comfortable enough about the church that had his two daughters there and continued to tithe pretty well. That Obama didn't suppose that Wright would be a problem for him and his campaign also speaks a great deal to Obama's real blindness about Wright - and how extreme his statements sound to most Americans. And that's the real problem here: to the degree that Obama continued to play up his association with his church and Rev. Wright, it at the very least shows that he thinks Wright's noxious statements are not outside the pale, regardless of whatever damage control he's begun. It's not unlike Edwards' willingness to nod and look thoughtful when the 9/11 "Truthers" would go on about the government's complicity with terrorist attacks. (Note that Bill Clinton, in contrast, has been pretty forceful in slapping down the wackadoos...). Neither really believes that crap, but their willingness to allow it into the national conversation is troubling, to say the least.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Everything I ever needed to know, I learned in Rome . . . .

This should sound familiar:

"The fact of the matter, nonetheless, was that Vespasian and Mucianus had agreed on a plan of action already. When they received the news of Otho's accession, during Titus' absence, they decided to acknowledge him as their emperor, and administered the oath of allegiance to their troops forthwith. Neither of them was particularly enthused about Otho's cause. Rather, they were playing a waiting game, planning--according to Tacitus--to sit on the sidelines while Otho and Vitellius slugged it out. In their view, it did not matter which contender won the war, because both were so horribly flawed that the one would be brought doen by the war, the other by his victory. This is a classic example of a motif as popular with Greco-Roman historians as are conspiratorial theories of history today, that of the tertius gaudens, the third party who waits till a struggle between two other rivals has been fought, and the victor has been so weakened by his success that he can be defeated."

--Gwyn Morgan, 69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors at 180 (OUP 2006).

We are now in for five solid weeks of Hillary v. Obama, no holds barred. "Tertius gaudens" seems like a pretty good strategy for Sen. McCain, eh?

The Crimes of Spitzer

My contempt for Eliot Spitzer is absolute, but it seems to me (an amateur) that the criminal charges that are being talked about are just this side of phony. The Mann Act? Please. The financial structuring issue seems dubious to me as well, since I've seen no reports that any one of the services purchased by Spitzer cost more than the $10,000 threshold for a formal financial report; instead, it looks like he purchased a series of services, each of which cost less than $5000, but the total of which summed to more than $10,000. I can't believe that to be a structuring violation; over the course of a year, I spend more than $10,000 at the Agoura Deli for corned-beef sandwiches, $10.95 (plus tip) at a time. Is that "structuring"? Interstate travel to commit a crime? See comment on the Mann Act above. Wire fraud? The last refuge of prosecutorial scoundrels. Conspiracy to commit money laundering? It looks more to me like a conspiracy to preserve anonimity. Etc.

We aged veterans of the NKVD know that strict adherence to the letter of the law is essential; that's why confessions, however obtained, are necessary. Spitzer, of course, during his salad days as an Aspiring Governor knew this as well, which is the source of the supreme contempt that he enjoys from, well, everyone. Yes, he deserves to rot in hell, and, for that matter, to rot long before he gets there. But that is no excuse for the current efforts of the prosecutors to find some paddle, any paddle, that would fit his backside. This is supposed to be a nation governed by the rule of law.

Should Prostitution Be Illegal?

As Tom commands, so I obey...

So over at The Corner (and elsewhere) they're having a rather spirited discussion of whether prostitution ought to be illegal in the wake of Gov. Spitzer's recent shenanigans, with Andrew Stuttaford leading the libertarian (and libertine?) charge. He's wrong (as is so often the case), but not for the reasons typically adduced.

First, we might think that prostitution should be illegal because it's immoral. (Note that Stuttaford has not yet - so far as I can tell - actually said that he thinks prostitution is even immoral; he merely grants it arguendo). But that clearly won't fly, as there are plenty of things that are immoral that we don't make illegal. If we were to make lying a crime, for example, we'd have to lock up darned near every real estate agent in the country. Not that that would be a bad thing, but still....

Another line of reasoning might suggest that we make prostitution illegal because of its pernicious consequences. Lisa Schiffren at NRO has taken this line, noting that, for whatever reason, the particularities of prostitution seems inevitably to include coercion, violence, exploitation and the like. That seems right as a practical matter, but it's vulnerable to the breezy Stuttafordian reply that we can solve such problems with proper enforcement and that in any case making it illegal merely exacerbates those problems. I can't really say which of the two has the better empirical case and imagine that there are plenty of arguments on both sides.

My argument for making prostitution illegal rests on quite different grounds, though it may help explain why prostitution seems to end up involving all sorts of nasty characters, whether it is illegal or not. Consider the following: in western liberal societies we recognize something we might call sexual liberty. At a minimum, this means that we think that someone should not be obligated to have sex with someone without his or her consent. The exact extent of this sexual liberty is, of course, deeply disputed, but consent certainly is a common touchstone. Well, why do we have this view? In large part, I think, we have this view because we understand sex (as with, say, religion) to be something of such intimate importance that to have the clumsy, bumbling state involved makes for some very bad policy outcomes. Whatever else human beings are, we are the sorts of creatures who value greatly our ability to live "in conscience," in accordance with what we take to be true; coercing us in matters of sex treads on that ability in important, even crucial, ways.

Making prostitution legal might seem to accord with a generalized sexual liberty but it actually runs deeply against the grounds for such liberty precisely in that it makes sex out to be something quite different than the generalized liberty claim depends upon. When we legalize prostitution, we say then that sex is or can be a mere commodity, a "thing" that can be the object of an economic transaction. But to be that sort of "thing," it then cannot be the sort of deeply personal, crucially important "thing" that grounds our claims to sexual liberty. If sex is a thing we can legitimately pay for, then it may be a thing that we can regulate, tax and tie up in all sorts of minute state control, much like any other "recreational" activity. We can treat it like rockclimbing and can largely do what we want with it politically. But that's not what sex is and whether we admit or not - and our popular culture tries powerfully to convince us that it's just another recreational "thing" - we recognize that as such, which is why even its "legal" manifestations are rife with coercion, violence, and nasty characters. Prostitution is inherently vicious and degrading and it is no surprise that when we try and make it legal, its vices don't go away.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Eliot Spitzer, Human Being, or: Eliot Spitzer, Human Being?

Since Spitzer's a Democrat, and quite a self-righteous one, I'm trying not to enjoy this all too much. A GOP senator named Vitter got named in a DC hooker ring, and he was given a pass, as it was indeed a private matter between him and his wife.

Proper, in my view.

But Spitzer was a prosecutor. My rules for hypocrisy are pretty liberal---Spitzer said he failed to live up to his own standards, and that's fair---among human beings who actually have standards, failure is inevitable.

But to prosecute---persecute---others for the same thing you do yourself, and he apparently did, is another matter entirely, and fits my definition of hypocrisy. Spitzer, according to the link above, prosecuted prostitution.

Now, if it turns out he gave hookers a break---and because there is no moral difference here between buyer and seller---perhaps he's just the victim of bad luck.

Me, I just wonder how he could afford Emperor's Club courtesans on a civil servant's salary. Up to five grand a pop? At least we can hope he selected from the Three Diamond menu instead of the Seven, as any fiscally responsible politician would.

[Nice to see Messrs. Simpson and Evanston check in. This blog has always been about dialogue and not speechifying. There will be much to dialogue about in the coming months about the future and fate of this here republic...]

Sunday, March 09, 2008

So Sorry...

To have been gone from these parts for so long. It has been an "interesting" few months, as we've been considering changing jobs, cities, and much else. But I'm back around and will try to throw things up for your oh-so patient consideration a bit more in the days to come...